September 2, 2016
A plasma spark between my fingers is the first element of the ritual that brings me relief. Then the slow, heavy inhale, the smell of rich pine tar mixed with burning sugar and cinnamon. Now the exhale, the thick black smoke that hangs rudderless in the air above me, waiting for the wind to take it away. Away with the ghosts of the pain in my joints, in my limbs.
The smoke thinned out into a weaving path over the evergreens studding the side of the mountain I was coming down. Like a dark spirit twisting and twining around the trees, searching for a home or hovel to hide in, it wove its way down toward Ikthardan. It’s a small town with no more than a few buildings other than the tall peaked wooden homes common in the Gertan mountains.
This was the last evening of a two week hike through the mountains to come to the town. They had summoned me, asking that I come as soon as I could. I was the closest of my order, and they needed our help before another new moon came and went.
I followed the river of smoke to the large longhouse that stood in the middle of the town, raised up on great oak risers and adorned with the hammers, mizran, and runes of the Order of Law. I rapped twice with my gloved hand and breathed deep, slowly exhaling. Townsfolk can sometimes be trying on my nerves.
A simple boy opened the door, unadorned by anything other than the light tunic and slacks, emblazoned with the small shield of Ikthardan. “Sir? Welcome to Ikthardan, what is your business with the Master of the House?”
I smiled, relieved. Young men are easier than stuffy majordomos or councilors. “I am Vala, I come as I was called. Speak to the Justicar, he will know of me.” I then reached out to him with my mechan hand, holding the forty-link badge of my order. “The Dranchae have come as we have been asked.”
The boy’s eyes widened and he dashed away, yelling for someone named Rozath. Probably the Justicar, the speaker for the Order of Law. The returning footfalls came with a large, barrel-chested man with a thick, braided beard and tightly coiled hair. He was, indeed, wearing a long tabard emblazoned with the mizran of the Law.
“Welcome, Valaryatha. I am Rozath, of the Claeve of Justicars, Lawbringer to this land and servent of the Silver Legions and enforcer of the Mizran, the Laws of the Righteous. We are in grave need of your help, dhallma.”
October 4, 2014
This once appeared on The Limitless, an online magazine, that has (it appears) since gone defunct. So I’m putting it here again so everyone can read it.
This is Us.
He’s never who you think he would be.
He was young, well youngish. Maybe late twenties. Perhaps early thirties. Not tall, not fat, not thin, not short, he was quite average overall. A bit of a paunch hanging over layered muscles, quiet business clothes poorly kept.
He had grown up apart from most. Good at math, good with words, did well in the Arts, the Humanities, the Sciences. Enjoyed English, studied history. Never had any friends though; when he would try to interact with others, whether peers or adults, he was always too visceral. Too intense. Too loud, too insistent, too focused. Many saw him and distrusted him; they all thought he was like a robot wearing a skin suit.
He went to a local college, didn’t follow his dream. People like him could never be successful dreamers, only forgotten dreamers. Instead he became an accountant, a numbers man, and was good at it. Enjoyed it. He would offer to do anyone’s numbers, to help them and to secure that desperately wanted social interaction. Such desperation lead him to the wrong groups, the wrong people. He fell in with tough “friends”, friends who taught him how to fight, how to argue, how to lead.
Now he worked with these friends. They ran a halfway successful boxing clinic to hide the thuggery of their day to day operations. He did their numbers. Some liked him. Some feared him. All respected him, and that is all he could want. He always arrives in the same way he leaves; black leather messenger bag, loosely resting in the small of his back, containing small laptop, power cable , cell phone, cell phone cable, two black pens, a blue pen, a red pen, a yellow college-ruled legal pad, small bottle of unsorted medications, all hidden under his business jacket. He didn’t need to hide it under his jacket but he did.
He had taken the bus home that day, as he always did. Two buses, one west three blocks, the other north four and a half. From there he had to walk another half-block north, as the bus turned. While this bothered him, it was of no consequence. That day was particularly jarring for him, with them sounds around him haunting him, following him. They hit hit him in waves of cacophony, unsettling him as the ocean throws a swimmer from his wave. When he walked off the bus he reached down to his belt, a small leather case with a metal clasp, and felt the edges of a balisong, a butterfly knife, through the casing. It was one of his small comforts.
The balisong was a gift from his boss. It reminded him of a yoyo he had owned as a child. A way of metering the world, a metronome for his thoughts. There was the click of it rolling off of his fingers, the swish of it falling, and the snap as it returned to his hand. Click, swish, snap. Just the tiniest bit of pain to solidify it for him, to make the object real. The balisong was like that. The click of the hinge opening, the swish of the knife sweeping open, the snap of it coming together just after his fingers glide out of the way. Click, swish, snap.
The knife was how he came to be feared, even respected, among his compatriots. While he was an accountant, whenever other boxing clubs had tried to rough him up, they had found that he was deadly with the small knife. Two men were hospitalized for one of these encounters.
He walked down the road toward his home, buildings looming above him, seeming to judge him. Everything seemed to warp toward him, as if being pulled toward him. A road became a cave, every wall pouring over him like falling glasses full of the darkest ink. Set apart was one electrical box, brazenly displaying itself like a man puffing his chest. Proudly labeled with a sticker, right across the front, the box inquired, “Do we really know what we think we know?” The balisong was in his hand, he knew not how it got there. Only that the click, swish, snap was keeping him level.
He was opening the door to his apartment, left handed, but this was awkward. He was normally right handed but, currently, his right hand was occupied. The knife danced over it, entrancing but, ultimately, ignored. It was his metronome for now, whispering the soft “click, swish, snap.”
His TV was on. He was inside. He was unsure as to how or why this happened. He was cooking dinner. In the background was the knife. Opening. Closing. Click…swish…snap.
Half eaten, his dinner has cooled near him. The knife is fevered now. Clickswishsnap, as if one word, and the man on the TV is leering to him, leaning over. He says, “You can do it. We can help.”
The phone is clicking onto the base, an old phone. Rotary. The knife blazes around his hand like steel turned to light. The sound is indefinable now, almost an emotion rather than a physical thing. He had heard their voice, the phone number from the sticker (was there a phone number?) they can help him (did they say that?). They knew everything (they did say that). He told them he saw it, the reasons behind everything (he’s always known the reasons, why the music hates him, why the building crush him). He told them that he was being followed (they follow him every day). He told them he has the answer (the only answer). They did not listen.
But he knew. He knew now. He could stop the evil inside of him, he just had to remove it. Excise it. Like his numbers. Slowly he lay down, and he cleared his mind. Readying himself.
October 3, 2014
Thinking of the second major character for the fantasy setting I’m working on, Smoke, got me thinking about the kind of trope design the setting will be built around. Almost all fantasy settings have ‘classes’, or types of heroes that wander around in those worlds. Usually it’s a combination of professional fighters; thieves, rogues, and other cut-throats; clerics, priests, shamans, or other sorts of healers and holy men; and wizards, sorcerers, mages, and other types of magicians. Occasionally there are specific versions of one of these four groups that are particular to whatever setting it is, or unique hybrids among them that provide flavor for the setting.
In this world, all great persons can be summed up into 3 groups: Warriors, those whose martial prowess, extreme technique, and skill with arms give them power and prestige; Sorcerers, whose sage like knowledge, wisdom, and control of the four elements and five directions grant them mystical abilities through their sacred knowledge; and Alchemists, the rare martial artists who practice an internal form that mixes martial prowess, mystical abilities, and the arcane energies of the Dao to manipulate themselves and their opponents.
Savisha, or my Grey Paladin as I think of her, is a Warrior. She is a master of the Eight Arms of Marisha, the martial art that was created by the founder of her holy order. It uses six weapons, outlined in the last bit I wrote about this, as well as an open-handed style and intricate study of the body’s positions and how they reflect the mind’s wisdom to make practitioners skilled diplomats. Other Warriors include samurai from beyond the White Peaks who mastered a flowing and fast style of fencing with their curved but strong swords or the soldiers of Hwaran Shein who patrol the emerald hills around their kingdom on horseback with heavy chopping swords and axe-like polearms. Most militaries and royal clans are made almost completely of Warriors. Their secrets lie in the mastery of External Martial Arts, the methods of striking out from the body aggressively.
Smoke, her companion through the journey she finds herself in within the story, is an enterprising Alchemist. He is a master of a form of combat that centers around deception and manipulating his body to make it light enough to fly short distances, flexible enough to bend around his opponents, yet strong enough to deliver crushing blows when necessary. His style is centered around the control of the qi in his breath, so as to control his breath itself. To exploit this, he carries a large water pipe, using the sweet smell to disorient those trying to overtake him and controlling the smoke to hide his presence in a fight. Other Alchemists would include the ancient orders of doctors in the Xiaolin states or the horse-callers of the open plains of the Khans. Every great martial arts tradition has a mystical arm composed of Alchemists to master the body and the mind through their martial practice. Their secrets lie in the mastery of Internal Martial Arts, the methods of controlling the body’s flow of energy, or qi, to work mystical feats.
The last group is the Sorcerers, who will not go without their own representation in the story, are the most secretive and rare group of the three. Their practices are truly arcane in nature, drawing on an understanding of all of the sacred forces of the world that govern its nature. They are the sage students of the four elements (Water, Fire, Stone, and Wind) as well as the five directions (North, South, East, West, and Center). Both wizards with no allegiance or alliance who lock themselves away in ancient places to study arcane forces and the holy men in the temples of the Merciful God who speak words of healing and curing are Sorcerers. The truly magical feats of the world are all rooted in the 3 Sciences; Elemental Control, The Methods of the Five Directions, and the Sacred Names. Elemental Control allows Sorcerers to direct and control the fundamental force of their world, from drawing poison right out of the blood by commanding its Water essence to shaping steel into a legendary sword by commanding the Earth within the iron and carbon. The Methods of the Five Directions grant Sorcerers incredible powers over distance when studies properly, allowing them to move at quick speeds, take flight, or even stand timeless in a single place and never aging at the highest levels of mastery. The Sacred Names are an incomplete collection of sutras, or sacred writings, that describe the true nature of things and allow the Sorcerers to manipulate the world using inscriptions in these sacred words directly on objects or by using temporary pre-written spells called Talismans. Their secrets lie within this body of knowledge and their creativity in using the 3 Sciences together in powerful ways. Many Sorcerers find themselves performing strange experiments to expand the knowledge of one of the Sciences, working to help those less powerful than themselves due to pacts with themselves (or occasionally powerful spirits), or serving leaders of the great nations of the many lands in the great continent of Surra and the islandsto the south in the Hwaran Archipelago.
Surra is but one part of the largest continent in this world and the most powerful political entities in their world. Though other nations certainly interact with them, and I’ll be exploring those later.
September 24, 2014
So, it’s been a while. I know.
Writing that book I was working on, conceptually, didn’t work out. Between my PC being down for two weeks and how hard it is for me to focus when it’s hot, I didn’t get any real work done on it. Now the story has mothballed in my mind. However, I do have another story brewing in the back of my mind. Work on that will be at the end of this post, even, if you want insight into what’s going on there.
In other news, my partner got my little laptop fixed so I once again have a simple, long-lasting portable writing machine. It’s super adorable. I’m updating my wardrobe slowly, but surely, and I’m feeling generally better. I’m waiting on the inevitable denial of the California Social Security Administration for my disability so that I can get the appeal started. This past week has been a little hard, though – my glasses broke (again) and the company that made them is unwilling to replace them. I’m going to fight them a bit and see if they’ll do it, since they broke the exact same way in the exact same place as the first pair. I’ve got a couple of (small) partial 2nd degree burns on my gut from meat-juices and molten cheese flying at me from making dinner two days ago. It also looks like the tabletop games I wanted to run won’t be working out, but it’s better to have no game than a bad game anyway.
One thing, above all else, has been really getting me out of bed and thinking, though. I’ve always had a love of Magic the Gathering but I recently started using Magic the Gathering Online (I’m Luarien, by the way, if you want to talk to me or whatever) and I freaking love drafting. It’s the best format ever. A friend bought me a Commander deck, and we’ve done a few games of that, but it’s kind of wacky and I don’t know if it’s really possible to make a consistent Commander deck. The high variability of games (and the disgusting way you can get shut out in Commander) isn’t always the most fun. It’s a fun format generally, though, and I’ve got most of a sliver deck put together as well. For those of you who, like me, came up in Magic during the golden age of slivers. Y’know, right around Ice Age.
I’ve also been playing through Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut. Which has been fun. I’ve considered streaming it but there’s not a lot of clamor for people wanting to watch me play video games. Or listen to me babble to myself about them. However, if suddenly there is interest then I could see myself streaming a lot. I’m considering going through Fallout New Vegas again, since I never finished it, and I’ve still got Baldur’s Gate to finish (and then import my file into Baldur’s Gate 2) now that I’ve got both updated versions. I might even consider streaming Battlefield 4, which I’ve been playing a bit, but I’m both not terribly good at it and my connection can be very, very spotty which makes it difficult to play well.
I had thought for a bit about getting back into HEMA, but the local group here is antagonistic to anyone with a social conscious. I’d say that they’re antagonistic to anyone who isn’t a white, able-bodied guy but there’s women on their meetup so I can’t really say that completely honestly. I’ve been trying to do some light exercising in my room but, well, I can be bad about that. Especially on days where I’m not feeling terrible but I’m also not feeling fantastic. I might have to take up walking again, it forces me to do something.
So, worldbuilding. The story I’m revisiting is the Grey Paladin stuff I was working on before. It’s a fantasy setting that I’m designing to be a kind of pastiche of medieval and ancient Asia the way that most fantasy settings are a pastiche of medieval and ancient Europe. The main character is coming from a large Hindu Kingdoms-style nation and is dedicated to an ancient warrior order called the Daughters of Marisha. Their particular oath, the Precept of Marisha, states –
We fight so that others stay safe.
We march so that others stay at home.
We search so that others are found.
We stand so that others rest safe.
We are powerful.
We are steadfast.
We are persevering.
We are protectors.
Marisha is depicted as an 8-armed warrior goddess, and six of the arms wield weapons – the khanda, a straight sword with a blue gem set in the hilt and three blackened fullers that has been enchanted to deal with the undead as well as stay incredibly sharp; the ursha, a silvered short ‘sword’ that’s designed to pierce armor similar to a main gauche; the madura, an enameled 8-sided metal buckler that’s related to both the pa kua and the idea of ‘rising’ and ‘falling’ or ‘ascendant’ and ‘descendant’ elemental forces; the malappuram kathi, a broad-bladed dagger that’s also used as a utility knife; the vel, a javalin that’s usually carried in sets of three and is enchanted to resist destruction. Her last two hands are empty – one is a fist to represent the Daughter’s training in unarmed combat and the other is an open, upraised hand to represent their training in diplomacy and their standing offer to help any who might need them.
Some of those are real weapons, re-imagined for this world. Some of them are not. The Hindu Kingdoms inspired nations are going to be called the Sister Kingdoms, and there are five of them. Each focuses on a different part of their shared religious heritage and each descends from a single mother, Marisha, and her five daughters. They’re all matriarchal, with local democratic control sending representatives to the kingdom’s capital where the queens rule alongside a democratic legislative body. That legislative body writes laws and elects local law enforcement, with the national congress choosing the highest criminal and civil court. Reviewing the laws, and being the last court of appeal, is a council of elders, one from each of the great guilds in the kingdoms – merchants, military, magicians, doctors, and judges. Each guild elects their representative in their own way. Each of these kingdoms is host to a large community of foreign people, both people who have immigrated into the kingdoms and those people who pass through major kingdoms who trade along the sea and land routes that they control.
If you guys like this, maybe next time I update I’ll tell you about the other nations in this fantasy world I’m mulling over.
May 30, 2014
A friend challenged me with writing a story with this title. This is what I wrote out in the half hour or so that followed.
The rain had been coming for three days and three nights, joined by parties of thunder and the soft music of wind through the city. Sorba stood facing the northern stretch of the valley, watching the great river swell and bloat while he ate simple grain cakes and drank only water. Woven between the drops of water came an errant ribbon of smoke tinged with the sickly sweet touch of roasted flesh. It was a smell that haunted Sorba and, in turn, haunted those below him in the ever-living city.
“The price is paid, man-thing.” The creature behind Sorba, who had worked tirelessly in his empty stone room, far above the ever-living city, turned back toward an empty black cask. It yawned outward, seemingly trying to eat all that was in the room, all that was in the world, and trap it within its blackened oak-planked domain. Cut into the oak were marks that were deliberate but unknowable, written in a language that was never real using a name that had never been said and written by a hand that couldn’t know.
“Did you hear me, man-thing? The price is paid. You may go.” The creature stalked around his small room, kicking what remained of those who had come before Sorba. Their bones were peeled and parted, split and sundered. The air was thick with their sorrow. Sown with their suffering and screams. Screams that had become hollow and meaningless. Sorba could no longer hear their voices. No longer could he see their names or faces in his mind. So he wept, his tears pouring down his face, spilling over his chin, and flooding the great, gorging ganges.
“Man-thing! You try Assarock’s patience! Begone from this holy site!” The creature rolled its shoulders and snapped its tail across the stones. The cackle was electric, as lightning skittering across the holy river. Another bone snapped beneath its great blackened nails. When it exhaled, the water fallen from the sky escaped and screamed. Great clouds of steam fled from it, seeking the pure embrace of oblivion. It growled in a way that no man could hear, no man could stomach. Its hands reached out for the seated man sitting in the rain. Crying and watching the great river swell and roll.
“Nothing stops me from feeding upon you, man-thing!” Sorba’s body was wracked with pain and fatigue but still he stared out at the great river. He opened his mouth and his body shook and shattered in fear. From deep in him his breath exploded, rolling out of his throat with the force of an explosive fire. There were whispers of sound and meaning deep within his breast but when they touched his teeth, they became numb and hollow. He soundlessly called out to the river, the great artery which his tears fed ever-flowing.
“As I have consumed completely those who have come before you, man-thing, I shall feed upon you! I shall eat upon your flesh! I shall gnash upon your heart! I shall chew upon your name! I shall crunch upon your memory! You will be forgotten! You will become as I am, hidden upon the names of men and unknown under the holy sun! Your violation of this holy place cannot abide the fierce Assarock!” The creature shuddered and shook, rippled as a pond angered by the impetuous youth who strike upon its surface. The names of gods and monsters piled upon the beast’s shoulders and gave it authority. The unspeakable strength of natural rite, the unknowable force of an order that knows both evil and good. As Assarock was created to Feast, it would Feast indeed.
Sorba looked up into the sky and spoke only once. “Look upon the river, Assarock. Even now it sweeps us up, it frees us from the bond of your forgetting. You have erased he gods and monsters. You have erased the pain and suffering. You have erased war and famine. But so great was your ego that you have now, in the eating of my own name, erased the last thing that fed your power in this world.”
The creature screamed and gnashed and fought. “Man-thing! Speak unto me the names of your fathers! Tell me why does your blood taste of poison and your flesh taste of deception! Tell unto me why your name tastes of dust and your memories taste of desolation?!” The creature fell to its knees. The weight upon its shoulders lifted, evaporating into the air. The stones around it grew cold and dry. It became dead and hollow inside its holy place. The man, his name forgotten, fell to the dust and collapsed. The stones beneath him grew cold and grey. Already sprouting from his body were the soft flowers and buds that would become the arms of the Dark Mother welcoming the body of her children to her last embrace.
“Speak man-child! By what name were your fathers invoked!”
The dead man’s blackened face and ashen eyes turned to the creature, slowly falling into deeper horrors than the even the creature could see. “We have forgotten.”